How to Publish an “on demand” photo book

Self-publishing books, thanks to the Internet and computer technology, has never been easier.

The geek term for printing one or more books only when you want them is “print on demand” and is one of the websites that lets you produce your own books in quantities as few as one.

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Sure, you can use Blurb to publish the Great American Novel but, hey, we’re photographers who have always wanted to publish a coffee table book. Blurb lets you do that without suffering the multiple indignities of receiving enough rejection slips from publishers to wallpaper your bathroom. (Don’t laugh, that’s how the late Evan Hunter aka Ed McBain started.)

Blurb lets you create four sizes of many different books, including photography books, in hard cover with a dust jacket or softbound versions. A new option called “Hard Cover, ImageWrap” wraps photos around the hard covers, kind of like a built-in dust jacket. All these choices means there are lots of different permutations and combinations so you’ll be sure to find one that fits your goals, aspirations, and budget.

The Book Pricing section of the Blurb website shows the cost by page count for the four different styles of books currently available including Square (7x7-inches) starting at $12.95, Standard Portrait (8x10-inches) beginning at $19.95, Standard Landscape (10x8-inches) starting at $19.95, and Large Format Landscape (13x11-inches) for any budding Ansel Adams out there starting at $54.95

As I write this, Blurb is raising their prices, so I recommend you check the Book Pricing section of the website for the latest rates. The most important thing to know about pricing is that the books are priced by page count but not by the page. For example a zero to 40 page books is one price and the 41 to 80 page books costs another amount so it pays to stay on the high end of the page count hitting the number of pages that’s highest before moving into the next more expensive category.

Software Is Free

Where Blurb differs from similar “print on demand” sites is that they provide free software, called BookSmart, that lets you produce the entire book off-line using professionally designed templates that let you merge multiple images and even text to produce a professional-looking book even if you have no book design experience.

As with any photo book, the secret is first collecting all the images that will appear in the book. I started working on “Acapulco, Paradise of the Americas” by using Adobe Photoshop’s Bridge to locate and assemble all of the images I wanted to include but you can use any image browser software, including the free IrfanView ( for Windows or IPhoto for the Mac OS.

BookSmart works with JPEG files, so the next question is what resolution the images should be. Blurb books are printed at 300 dpi and the largest photos you can use, a full-page picture in a 13x11 book, should be no bigger than 3900 x 3300 pixels. Placing images larger than this in BookSmart will not improve the final product but will make uploading slower and may cause scaling artifacts. On the other hand, Blurb accepts images down to 150dpi but depending on how large they’re used may not appear in print as well as you'd like.

The resolution for images for the cover of a Standard Landscape Cover are 3038 x 2555 but these appearing on this dust jacket were slightly smaller and still printed wonderfully. You can find the detailed specifications on image size and resolution from Blurb’s FAQ section. To remind yourself of these requirements, write them on a sticky note and attach it to the bottom of your monitor when working with BookSmart. I will confess to ignoring all these numbers and just converting my image files into JPEG format using Photoshop and have not been disappointed with the results—at least not yet.

Designing your book's BookSmart includes a number of standard book pages including Title, Introduction, Copyright, and Introduction so be sure to use them in to make your book look like a “real” book. At the beginning of the process you have a choice of using “Starter Layouts” that includes many of these pages and you will find that’s a better way to start rather than using the “Wing It” option that lets you work totally from scratch. Some of these pages, especially the Copyright page, include boilerplate text so be sure to read and customize it for you and your book. Other pages, such as Title have placeholders for text, such as the title and subtitle of your book. Choose these carefully because they will be added to the spine of the book as well as on the top and bottom of the inner pages.

If the size of your monitor permits, try to use the side-by-side page layout that lets you see adjacent pages at one time. This is just one of the three views possible in BookSmart. You can, of course add, change, or delete any of this material at any step in the process because BookSmart is so flexible. Make no mistake, it’s not Quark XPress or Adobe InDesign but it’s much, much easier to learn and use than those desktop publishing programs.

With your folder of JPEG images prepared, it’s just a matter of selecting what kind of page template you want to use and dragging your file onto the space in the template. This is where you’ll need to exercise taste and judgment to achieve a pleasing blend not only the image used but how many photos are used on a specific page.

On the left-hand side of the working window, BookSmart has a scrolling window showing thumbnails of all the images in the book. After an image is placed a green check mark appears on it; if you delete the image from a page, the checkmark disappears. Once a photograph is placed in this dock it can be dragged onto a page and not from your image folder, which is an alternate way to place images.


Uploading and ordering your book


When your book is ready for printing, BookSmart lets you upload the book that depending on your Internet connection, the size of the book, and number of images might take a half-hour or more. Then you get to pay for the book and shipping using a credit card. Eight days later, the finished nicely packed finished book(s) will arrive via UPS.

After you’ve ordered a book, you can make it available to the public (or not) and even add whatever mark-up you like to make some money on future sales. You can even create a description page, such as this one, that lets you describe what the book is all about as well as include a brief biography, which is more than will do for you.

In the past, I’ve created several CD-based e-books, and I gotta tell you producing the dead trees version of these books using BookSmart was a much easier process. Better yet, Blurb will fulfill the orders from other people for you and when you’re book is published you can even mark it up so you can make a few bucks on the process. More importantly you can publish a book that major publishers would ignore because the potential market is too small. Since Blurb lets you publish as few as one book, no niche is too small.

Joe Farace is the author of “Acapulco, Paradise of the Americas” which is self-published via Visit their website and search the Bookstore under “Farace” to order a copy.



Joe Farace is the author of “How I Photograph Cars,” which is self-published via Visit their website and search the Bookstore under “Farace” to order a copy. Softcover copies are $19.95 plus shipping.

Have you ever self-published? How did it go? Leave a comment!


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